Softfile name

What is Softfile?

What It Does

Softfile is an RTG software product with an ambitious goal: to use a computer to supplement an individual's memory.

The human brain is an incredible storage device. It stores huge quantities of information which can be retrieved easily and quickly most of the time. But the brain has some weaknesses as well. It is selective about what it "stores", choosing what to remember and what to forget in a way that is usually beyond our conscious control. In addition, certain kinds of information are very difficult to remember, such as complex procedures, or strings of words and numbers that require great accuracy to be useful (for instance, a mailing address).

Computers, of course, have no trouble "remembering" thousands or even millions of phone numbers, mailing addresses, account balances, and the like. Software is readily available and widely used for these tasks.

But much of the information we need to remember is not "structured". There are no well-defined fields like "first name", "last name", or "zip code". For example, you might like to keep a record of the conversations you have with various people. When someone phones unexpectedly, you want to recall what you spoke about during the previous conversation. Or it might help you solve a problem if you could remember how you solved a similar problem months ago.

Information like the notes of a conversation is called unstructured data or free-form text. This type of information is not handled very well by traditional database programs. However, it is exactly this type of data that Softfile was designed to store.


Storing Free-form Text

Softfile organizes information somewhat like a notebook. Each page of text is like a page in a paper notebook. After entry, the page of text gets stored in Softfile's memory bank. Softfile can store nearly one million pages.

A note doesn't have to fit on one page. It can be continued on subsequent pages, just as you would continue a handwritten note on successive pages in a paper notebook. The pages are connected in a way that lets you "page" through them, forward or backward, like the pages of a book.

Softfile pages do not have to be connected, however. You can enter a page that is not connected to any previous page, and then connect subsequent pages to it, if you choose.

In order to store notes of conversations, you could create a background note for each person you talk to over the telephone. It would contain the person's name, phone number, and so forth. Connected to the background page would be a page for each conversation.

The pages for one person would be like a stack of notes, with the background page on top. If you enter a new note, it would go after the background page and before all the other notes. This lets you see the most recent notes first as you page through them.


Hypertext Links

Sometimes one note may refer to another one elsewhere in the stack. For example, a phone call today may refer to another call six months earlier, with many notes between the two. You can set up a connection between the two pages that lets you move from one to the other with a single mouse click. This connection is called a link. Any two pages can be linked together. You can think of links as cross-references to other pages in the electronic notebook created by Softfile.

A paper notebook and a word processing document are linear: you start at the beginning, and text follows word by word until you reach the end. But text with links between related items, often called hypertext, gives you alternative paths through the information.

Softfile has both linear and hypertext capabilities. Pages can be connected together so you see them in sequence, but they can also be linked together in any desired order. Indeed, pages can even be separate from all others, like paper notes tossed at random into a large box.


Retrieving Information

Information retrieval is the real challenge in storing unstructured text. In our example, once you have the background page on the screen, you can easily page through the notes which follow it, or follow a link to another page. But how do you find the proper background page?

Softfile indexes the words and numbers on each page automatically, as soon as you finish entering a new page and whenever you make changes to an existing page. You can search for all pages that contain any combination of words or numbers, and then jump to any one of the pages that Softfile has retrieved.

If you search for "RTG", you might find many records. A simple trick will let you find just the background page you want: put "RTG/" on that page. Softfile considers the slash to be part of the word. Now you have a unique "word" that can pick out one page from thousands of others. To carry this idea one step further, create an index page containing the word "INDEX/" and list all the unique identification words you have created.

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